The newly restored riding of Richmond, which takes in the entire Municipality of the County of Richmond, will be a hotly contested race in the next provincial election.
The riding was called Richmond until 2012 when the then NDP government unconstitutionally gerrymandered the riding to add the Town of Port Hawkesbury and parts of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
After a successful lawsuit by the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, the riding was wisely returned to its original, protected status last year by the Nova Scotia’s Electoral Boundaries Commission.
Tim Houston, the leader of the Official Opposition was in Cape Breton late last month, and one leg of that stop was a visit to Richmond on August 22.
Although the Liberals held the seat for two decades under former MLA and cabinet minister Michel Samson, Houston noted that many communities in Richmond County voted PC in 2017 to help elect Alana Paon.
But after Paon became entangled in a disagreement over accessibility to her constituency office in St. Peter’s, then made what Houston deemed “mean spirited and unfounded” claims about the House of Assembly Management Committee, and following talks with her constituents, Houston cited a continued “pattern of behaviour” from Paon for his decision to remove her from the PC caucus last June.
Although Houston acknowledged that things “didn’t work out” and “there were some issues,” he remains optimistic that Richmond itself will vote Tory for the first time since 1984 when it elected Greg MacIsaac.
If Paon does decide to re-offer, Houston said vote-splitting between Boudreau and the former PC MLA is a concern, noting that there is a tendency to “wonder how people will vote.”
But Houston expressed confidence in the PC candidate in the riding, Dr. Trevor Boudreau, who was acclaimed on August 6.
Boudreau, a former Port Hawkesbury Deputy Mayor, is a chiropractor who co-owns a multidisciplinary health clinic in Port Hawkesbury. For eight years he served on Port Hawkesbury Town Council. He is the former vice-president of the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, the former chair of the board for Louis dale Community Homes, former chair of the Allan J. MacCracken Airport, and is presently the co-chair of the Cape Breton South Recruiting for Health Committee.
For his part, Boudreau touted his experience in the health care field as a professional, a politician and a volunteer and said health care will be one of his biggest priorities if elected MLA.
Because of Boudreau’s background, Houston said this gives his candidate a unique perspective on the “very significant” issue of health care, a file the governing Liberals have done little to improve, he said.
Houston told The Reporter he is “really excited” about Boudreau’s candidacy and “super impressed” someone of his quality would put his name forward.
Calling him “an excellent person, excellent community member, well respected” Houston is confident he and his team can form the next provincial government and have Richmond represented by a government MLA.
Standing in the way of the plan, are the possibility of Paon running as an independent, the Liberals and NDP both finding good candidates, along with the fact that Richmond County – minus the CBRM and Port Hawkesbury parts of the riding – actually voted Liberal in the last provincial election, albeit by the smallest of margins.
Yes, the PC vote did increase noticeably in areas like Louisdale, River Bourgeois, and St. Peter’s, and yes, many who voted that way in 2017 could conceivably vote that way again in the next election, but Paon’s candidacy could very well take some votes away from Boudreau.
The other factor is the collapse of the NDP vote in 2017, which may have also helped Paon win election by 22 votes since it’s assumed from the results that some traditional NDP voters may have temporarily parked their votes with the PCs, or stayed home altogether. Given their poor result three years ago, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the NDP will do better in the next election.
As for the Liberals, their new candidate will undoubtedly not have to carry the baggage that Samson did four years ago, when public sector employees and teachers helped send him to the private sector. That is unless Samson runs again; a possibility that makes an already interesting race, completely fascinating.
It will be many months before the Nova Scotia Liberal Party elects a new leader, before Premier Stephen McNeil officially steps down, and before the new leader and premier decides to call an election.
This will provide ample time for all parties and candidates to get organized, dig in and prepare for a political battle for the ages.